Obama education chief Duncan to push schools reform

Inspired by the late Dr. Martin Luther King , U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in his speech yesterday to D.C. stakeholders called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.” Speaking to more than 150 groups from education, business, civil rights and social services, Duncan challenged them to rewrite the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was approved by Congress in 2001 and finalized by President Bush in 2002, a law that reauthorized and amended federal education programs established under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.

While Duncan credits NCLB for highlighting the achievement gap in schools and for focusing on student outcomes, he said the law puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, unfairly labels many schools as failures, and doesn’t account for students’ academic growth in its accountability system. But Duncan says the biggest problem with NCLB is that “it doesn’t encourage high learning standards,” which contributes to our nation’s staggeringly high dropout rate. Duncan relayed a conversation he had with a 9th grader, Teton Magpie, on a Montana reservation who told Duncan that adults simple don’t expect enough of him and his peers. Duncan said, “When kids aren’t challenged they are bored—and when they are bored they quit.” Here are statistics Duncan cited to underscore the problems:

- 27% of America ‘s young people drop out of high school. That means 1.2 million teenagers are leaving our schools for the streets.
Recent international tests in math and science show our students trail their peers in other countries. For 15-year-olds in math, the United States ranks 31st.
17-year olds today are performing at the exact same levels in math and reading as they were in the early 1970’s on the NAEP test.

- Just 40% of young people earn a two-year or four-year college degree.

- The US now ranks 10th in the world in the rate of college completion for 25- to 34-year-olds.

A generation ago, we were first in the world but we’re falling behind. The global achievement gap is growing. At LifeBound we are committed to education reforms that support success in college and careers. Solving global problems in the 21st Century requires innovative people who face life with curiosity and the desire to dig beneath the surface for answers and ideas. As educators, it is our responsibility to foster these critical and creative thinking skills in our students so that they are prepared to enter the global marketplace. Students don’t get bored and quit when they are challenged to think deeply about themselves, their gifts and talents and their role in the world.

1) At the district and school levels, how can we place a bigger value on student success and transition programs that help students achieve their full potential?

2) What can we do to foster adaptable thinkers who are both self and world-smart?

3) How can we help ensure that all students are prepared for college, career and life success?

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to challenge educators, civil rights groups and others to put aside “tired arguments” about education reform to help him craft a sweeping reauthorization of federal education legislation by early 2010.

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